Anne has been researching her ancestry. Using the website Ancestry she has been searching through public records, working her way backwards, looking for her origins. My Aunt Betsy devoted years to this type of research and I have inherited the several volumes of family history that she had compiled. I have a copy of my family genealogy that extends backwards hundreds of years. Most of Betsy’s work was performed before more modern methods were available, like the Internet or DNA testing. Anne is utilizing the Internet, but has not tried any genetic testing. Ancestry is one of this industry’s leaders in this application of DNA testing and has amassed a genetic database of millions of Americans. This is a database of sufficient size to almost guarantee a match, at least on the second or third cousin level, of every person in America.
This fact has not gone unnoticed by another big consumer of genetic testing, law enforcement. Last month, after an investigation that spanned over forty years, a suspect identified as the Golden State killer was arrested. DNA samples taken at crime scenes were entered into a genetic database and using a technique called genetic triangulation, matches were made with relatives of the murder suspect. Detectives used public ancestry records to fill in their family tree and identify the suspect. This approach is being used in other cases, like the Zodiac killer.
DNA testing is still a relatively new technology, but in its brief history, it has made tremendous advances. Even further progress should be expected. We are at a moment similar to the advent of fingerprints in crime fighting. People shed DNA everywhere they go. Unlike fingerprinting, which can be circumvented by simply wearing gloves, it would take a very conspicuous bunny suit to ensure that no DNA is left at a crime scene. Imagine a progression that allows the police to sweep a crime scene for DNA, like they now dust for fingerprints. Capital crimes are the likely first candidate for the expansion of this technology, but as it becomes cheaper to use, its use will become more pervasive. I wonder how all of this will affect American society in the years to come?